Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Featured author: Mason Cross

*FEATURED AUTHOR* This month is.... Mason Cross whose first novel was praised by Lee Child and his second is on the new Richard & Judy Book Club list (UK). Here is the first part of his Q&A.

Featured author interview by Susan Lobban

View the book "The Samaritan": UK readers / US Readers

1. How did you decide to become an author? What/Who inspired you?

I get this question a lot and I’m afraid I don’t have a very good answer, because I don’t think there was ever a time when I didn’t want to be a writer.
When I was in primary school I always loved any kind of creative writing assignments. When my family bought its first home computer (an Acorn Archimedes), I used to spend hours with a friend co-writing and typing our own Choose Your Own Adventure-type stories (sample titles: Ninja City, Terror of the Catacombs). I would then print these out and sell them to my school friends, so I guess I was slightly ahead of the curve in experimenting with self-publishing.
In terms of inspiration, I was fortunate that my family and teachers all encouraged me to write, which meant I never lacked the confidence to show other people my work. Reading Stephen King’s On Writing on a trip to Venice in 2000 was another big influence. The original UK hardback had a short story competition in the back, and the story I wrote was my first attempt at fiction for a few years. It didn’t win, or even get close, but I liked it enough to keep at it and write more stories and, eventually, novels.

2. Can you describe your typical writing day?
Unfortunately, there’s no such thing. I have a day job and three children, so the writing has to be slotted in wherever it will fit. Most often, it’ll be the end of the day when I get a chance to hit the keyboard, but sometimes I’ll fit in a page or two over lunchtime or while commuting. My usual target is to get at least 500 words down every day, which is manageable even on really busy days, but it means I can do more on the days where I happen to have more time.

3. Where do you write?
Again, there’s no one location. Ideally, I can work in my study at home, but that’s not always where I am when I have time to write, so by necessity, I’m kind of a nomadic writer. Taking the most recent book I’ve completed as an example, it was written in cafes, in pubs, on park benches, in hotel rooms, on the couch, in bed, in the Egyptian exhibit at the British Museum, at children’s birthday parties, in various branches of McDonalds and on trains all over the country. Trains are actually my ideal writing location. You get an allotted time, uninterrupted, with no internet - perfect.

4. How do you come up with your plot lines/characters?
I come up with the characters first. I like to have two or three strong characters through whose eyes we can view the action. I think about who they are, what’s brought them into the story, what their background is. Around the same time I’ll try to come up with an arresting opening and a few of the big scenes I want to happen in the book. When I have those building blocks, I’ll try to piece together a plot. The plot is the part that’s most subject to change as I write.

5. What made you set your novels in America with an American protagonist?
The simple answer is because, as much as I enjoy reading British crime fiction, I’ve always loved American thrillers even more. From The Three Investigators books I read in school to Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, James Ellroy and Elmore Leonard, John D MacDonald and Ira Levin, right up to modern American writers like Harlan Coben, Michael Connelly and Lee Child. And of course, Lee Child isn’t actually an American, which gave me the idea to try it myself.
As a sweeping generalisation, the pace of the American mystery thriller differs from British crime writing, which tends to focus more on the procedural aspect of solving crimes. I like both approaches, and I think the reason I enjoy reading Ian Rankin so much is because his work feels like a blend of the traditions. I also think it’s more permissible in an American thriller to define your hero or heroine as a lone wolf, working on their own initiative and sometimes setting them against the authorities.
Aside from that, I think the type of stories I write lend themselves to an American setting. The canvas is so much bigger, the suspension of disbelief is easier, not least because some of the big media events in America often sound like the plot for a movie.

6. Do you ever get writer's block and if so how do you get through it?
So far, I’ve been incredibly fortunate not to have had any kind of debilitating writer’s block. I get demotivated and tired out and pissed-off occasionally, like you do in any job, but so far it’s nothing that I haven’t been able to resolve by taking a couple of days off and then getting my butt back into the chair to write.

7. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
The advice everyone always gives is the same: write.
It sounds trite, but it’s absolutely true. Wanting to be a writer is not like other ambitions - if you have a laptop, or even a pen and paper, there’s nothing holding you back except yourself. If you want to be a writer, write every day and voila: you are a writer, and you will be getting better with practice.
The other thing that was really useful for me was to set that manageable target and make sure I found time every day to write at least 500 words. You can write 500 words in half an hour; in 15 minutes, even. If you write 500 words, 6 days a week, you’ll have a draft of a novel in 6 months.

8. What are you reading right now?
I’m reading Stasi Child by David Young, which is a debut thriller set in East Berlin in the 70s. I love that kind of recent-historical fiction, like Robert Harris’s Fatherland and Tom Rob Smith’s Child 44, and so far this one is really great.
I’m a comic geek, so I’m also catching up on the trades of Kurt Busiek’s Astro City and Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye, both of which I love.

Part 2 coming later this month!

View the book: UK readers / US Readers

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